David Ades was a friend met once only in a cafe at an hour not as late as it felt. I’d been to the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival launch party, and with no dinner plans, needed something warm to fill the spaces canapés had not reached. I walked along Jonson St, Fletcher, Lawson in the cold seeking a place and eventually spotted a warm glow at end of an open air arcade.
The café staff were starting to clear up but a few people arrived, a woman in stark white Indian cotton ordering a takeaway, and a young man. We talked.
I didn’t know his name them but I had noticed David sitting at the next table in dark clothes that must have held stories of many nights and cities. I noticed his hair too, silvery white, back into a pony tale. He was focused on eating.
David heard the woman in white speak to us of healing and spoke to her, something about cancer. My ears pricked up, I have my story. Her food ready, she left. David resumed his meal.
The young man had asked if he could join me for dinner. He had written a children’s book about the environment and planned to scale the barriers of the writers’ festival to show it to someone. I am pitching my novel to a live audience and three publishers and I’m nervous, I told him.
David spoke to me right then and I turned to see his blue eyes. He said he’d heard me speak about pitching and unfurled the story of his Dad, Joe, who had been a pitchman in New York City that people came from all over to see. He always wore a three piece suit and Union Square was one of favourite places to pitch. In the evenings Joe would go home to his fourth wife on the Upper East Side and would have a steak at a fine restaurant, every night. By the time David told me this my lentils had arrived, glowing and golden in a white bowl.
Joe’s merchandise was always the same thing, said David, and he did this for decades. The item sold at $5. It was a potato peeler that you will never find in a store. Joe Ades was The Potato Peeler Guy and when he died the New York Times his obituary. David urged me to read about his father on his website. I will, I said.
Oh hey, I wrote a story in a New York literary travel anthology last year [City Pick New York], I said.
I’d like to read that book, he said.
That can be arranged, I said.
We said goodbye and I felt gratitude that the uncertainty of this evening had led me to these people in that place. I awoke the next morning feeling buoyant, and carried the warmth of David’s story about his dad, Joe, the pitch man, into my own pitch that went so well that complete strangers approached me afterwards. My mood soared for a week or more.
When I had a chance to look up DavidAdesMusic.com and saw those blue eyes gazing out, I found out he not only played saxophone, he was one of the world’s finest. He never said. Naturally.
He’d had an album, out that year, recorded in New York City, David Ades & friends, A Glorious Uncertainty, and when I saw the cover with the front section of a yellow cab I smiled. The book I hoped to get to him had the back section of a yellow cab on its cover.
Soon after I found out he had lung cancer and was undergoing treatments, and I realised I’d heard something of this as he spoke with the woman in white.
We exchanged some Facebook messages. I wanted to get the book to him. “We could swap the CD and the book,” he said. “Sounds good,” I said. He said he was playing at Bangalow with Galapagos Duck. “Do you remember them? Or we could always use the good old postal system.” I saw the message too late for the gig. We never made the swap. It didn’t matter. The best swap was made in that hour we spent and for that I am glad.
Farewell David Ades.